Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Baking: From the Heart

Over the weekend Cramps turned to me and said to “you’ll never really understand love until you get a bulldog, will you?” To which I had to totally agree.

Now don’t get me wrong, we don’t have children, so we’re not experts on unconditional love but we’ve both had other dog breeds before and stand by the fact that nothing can prepare you for the love (hair, puddles of wee, poo, ruined rugs…) that a bulldog brings to your life. We didn’t take the decision to get a puppy lightly. Our research told us the breed was fairly low maintenance in regards to exercise but needed a lot of love. They could be stubborn but were very loyal and affectionate. It seemed a great fit for our lifestyle. We had both been totally won over by the bags of character the breed have, a quick search on YouTube and you’ve got more hilarious videos of bulldogs than you can shake a stick at.

Part of their charm is their tough appearance that melts away in an instant! In fact I would say Benson is the soppiest dog I have ever met.  This is a dog who despite getting on for 25kg feels climbing onto your lap for a cuddle is a totally appropriate thing to do.  He will sit on feet while we are eating at the table and never leave our side once all day. He even follows me into the toilet or bathroom when I shower. His love knows no bounds. He is obsessed with soft things, cushions, rugs, blankets and will often burrow into said soft furnishings for a quick nap leaving a trail of dog hair and a musk of hamster bedding…hmmm aren’t we just so lucky. Forget independence Benson hates being left alone, the guilt inducing face he has perfected for when I try and leave the house is so perfect that he often rides shotgun while I do my errands. He is never left alone for more than 3 hours and that is only when absolutely essential.

He has about 100 different facial expressions, each one incredibly funny. To him you are everything. While it hasn’t always been easy to adjust I love having Benson in our little family. You will never feel as loved as when you walk through the front door to a bulldog that’s shaking with excitement to see you. If you have the time and commitment that it takes to look after a dog who needs so much love I can’t recommend this breed more. If you already have one then you will know what I mean. A truly special breed, one in a million.

While this isn’t my usual kind of recipe I decided to create this for a couple of reasons. My little mutt is so sensitive- he seems to be allergic to everything! Nightly Sudocrem massages and an avoidance of any foods with artificial colours help to keep his itching to a minimum. We once tried one of his dog treats to see “what all the fuss was about” I swear they are made of compressed cardboard. So as a token of my appreciation for his love and ensure I know what he was eating I had a go at making some tasty little dog treats for him. Really these biscuits could be eaten by us too as they are much like a savoury oat cake, however I think I’ll leave these for Benson, sharing food with a pet is a questionable at best. Once made they will keep for a week or so in an airtight container. He loved them; mind you he would literally eat anything if he had his way.

Bensons Biscuits
Makes about 50 small biscuits.

180g wholemeal four
100g polenta
55g oats
30g wheat germ
50g light brown sugar
½ tbsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
½ cup water
85g butter, cold, chopped into pieces
1 egg
1 Heat oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4. Put all the ingredients, apart from the egg in a food processor and pulse until the mixture resembles crumbs.  Add the egg and pulse again then gradually add up to 50ml of cold water until you have a soft but dough. Divide into two balls and roll out each one in turn on a floured surface about ½ cm thick.
2 Stamp out hearts, bone shapes or whatever you fancy. Vary the size if you like depending on how good/big your dog is. Divide between flat trays lined with parchment. Re-roll any trimmings. Cook on the middle and bottom shelf, swapping the trays half way through, for 18-20 mins, until light golden and crisp. Cool. Keep in an airtight container. 

Monday, 19 January 2015

Have your cookie & eat it too!

So another year has passed already, I swear they whizz past quicker each year. Are you starting yours with good intentions? While resolutions can be a little cliché lets not forget about all the benefits of starting your 2015 with a fresh approach and a healthy attitude. When we all feel part of the same club or in the same boat there’s a much larger support network plus less fear of missing out. Lets be honest when you think all your friends are doing the same it makes it a lot easier to stay in with a bowl of healthy soup, than to opt for a night at the local pub followed by a late night Indian! Not only that but the papers, magazines and TV are inundating us with tips, advice, and relatable stories that can give us just the boost we need. Lastly after all the fun and excess of December our bodies really do need it, well mine certainly does anyway.

However in my opinion these things shouldn’t just be for January. There’s no point in signing up for unrealistic, punishing and lets face it unhealthy regimes or diets. These extreme diets just set us up for failure and following that failure can come nasty feelings of guilt. Frankly this isn't my idea of fun at all. The good news is the secret to long-term success is easy. Everything in moderation, it’s all about balance. Eat a varied, balanced diet and offset that bit of what you fancy with a bigger bit of what your body needs and you’ll be golden! We’re incredibly lucky to have such a wealth of recipes, ingredients and information to help us cook and eat more healthily. In fact healthy eating is more accessible than ever, so no more excuses ;-)!

Years ago healthy food was seen as strange and tasteless. Picture hippies in long skirts boiling up big vats of mung beans while waving around incense stick to mask the stench. TV shows with angry women who wanted to poke around our in our poo while the nation watched. No, not for me thanks! Luckily for us now it’s the complete opposite. You can eat healthy food all day long and be totally satisfied. We all have our guilty pleasures, vices and indulgent treats and so we should. For me it’s a glass of Prosecco and a bag of crisps once the working day is done, a really good Naples style pizza, and proper chips with loads of vinegar to name just a few. For this reason I could never follow a diet that cut out entire food groups or enforced eating at strange hours or on certain days only. Instead I find if I exercise a reasonable amount, take small steps to squeeze a little more activity into each day and eat a varied diet with lots of vegetables and lean protein then I can maintain a healthy weight. And still squeeze in a pizza or two week without busting out of my skinny jeans.

So my new years resolution is this: I’ll update my blog a little bit more this year and share with you some of my easy, healthy recipes that you can use in your everyday cooking too. I love cooking healthy meals and think that if more people tried these recipes, without a preconceived idea that they wont taste good or will still be hungry after they'd be converted too. For those that already do you will hopefully find some new ideas to try and adapt. Everything from soups for the freezer to easy weeknight dinners as well as more special meals for entertaining. Starting with these healthier oat & banana cookies. I used to make a similar cookie to this but each one had around 400kcals. When I went back to the drawing board I found with a few small tweaks I could reduce that by over half and they still tasted great. They’re full of goodness; oats, banana, dates, coconut, almonds and pistachios and can be eaten morning, noon or night. So looks like this year you can have your cake, well cookie and eat it too! Happy baking and Happy New Year!

Good Fortune Cookies
Makes 14
Around 179kcals, 10.5g fat & 5g protein per cookie.
Once cooked they will keep for a good 4-5 days in an airtight container, well that is if they last that long.

85g oats (use gluten free if you want to make these gluten free)
25g unsweetened desiccated coconut
25g whey protein (I got mine from Tesco)
75g ground almonds
50g raisins (optional)
40g nuts such as pistachios, almonds, hazelnuts, roughly chopped (whatever you have)
25g banana chips, roughly chopped (use extra nuts instead if you like)
4 tbsp coconut oil, melted
100g dates, stoned
65g really ripe (brown) banana
2 tbsp maple syrup
2 tbsp almond butter
1 tsp vanilla
¾ tsp bicarb

1 Heat the oven to 160C/140C fan/gas 3. Line 2 large trays with non-stick parchment paper. In a large bowl combine the oats, coconut, whey protein, ground almonds, chopped nuts, banana chips and raisins (if using) then mix to combine. Boil a kettle and cover the dates in boiling water, leave for a few mins to soften.

2 Once soft transfer to a blender with 2 tbsp of the water, the vanilla, coconut oil, banana, maple syrup and blend until smooth. Tip into a small pan with the almond butter and heat gently. Boil the kettle again and put the bicarb in a small bowl. Pour in 2 tbsp of boiling water then quickly add to the pan. Take off the heat and stir, it should bubble up and go frothy, mix well. Stir into the oaty mix.

3 Use an ice cream scoop to form balls of cookie dough and divide between the lined baking sheets, with a little space to spread. Press down to form cookie shapes. Bake for 14-16 minutes, depending on how chewy you like the cookies. Cool on a wire rack. Perfect with a hot cup of tea or a glass of milk!